Monday, July 28, 2003

VH1's "200 GREATEST POP CULTURE ICONS" just might have cured me of my love of such shows.

There will always be "How could you have left out [blank]?" and "How could you have included [blank]?" reactions to such lists, and the broad category of pop-culture icons will mean some very strange decisions and juxtapositions (rapper vs. scientist vs. cartoon character!), but even given all that, there is no excuse for the shoddily put-together series that VH1 came up with. The actor-vs.-character question is one that VH1 didn't do a great job of solving. The decision was apparently to go with the actor and not the character, unless a character (as with the superheroes) existed in multiple realms or was played by multiple actors. So we're left with such relatively personality-free "icons" as Harrison Ford, John Travolta, Leonard Nimoy, Molly Ringwald and Barbara Eden because they played some unforgettable characters.

A large part of my disgust, I admit, could be traced to the old-guy reaction that I've discussed before. (Tom Cruise has neither a personality nor a particularly iconic role and he's No. 5?) When you're talking about icons, though, I think you need to listen to people born before MTV. The test of time is a large part of what makes an icon. That leads me to a bigger issue, which is that I'm not sure VH1 knows what an icon is. As Jacqueline and I scratched our heads at some of the inclusions, omissions and relative rankings, she wondered whether we were making the mistake of looking for gay icons. Maybe we were, to some extent, but the same over-the-top referenceability that we associate with gay culture and campiness is, to my mind, a large part of what makes an icon.

The list was obviously weighted toward youth and political correctness, but even that bias wasn't applied consistently. Some older-people icons were overrated: Lucille Ball deserves a high ranking, but No. 4? The idiocies are countless, but here are some a few lowlights:

  • The cast of "Friends," No. 11. The Beatles, No. 12.
  • John F. Kennedy Jr. ranks higher than John F. Kennedy or Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. (Here's a juxtaposition for you: No. 32, JFK; No. 31, Eminem.)
  • Gwen Stefani, who has no business being on the list at all, is No. 142, ahead of Diana Ross, Jim Morrison, Bob Marley and Dolly Parton, among others.
  • Ricky Martin is also on the list. (What year is this? Hell, why not Los del Rio?)
  • Superman is No. 2. Superman belongs on the list, but No. 2? Spider-Man, an iconic character but hardly deserving of top-200 mention, outranks Batman. James Bond is nowhere to be seen. One could also make a strong argument for Jesus Christ in this company.
  • Katie Couric, but no Walter Cronkite.
  • John Wayne, an icon if ever there was one: No. 54, right behind Jerry Fucking Garcia.
  • Bob Dylan? Dylan! No. 68. Right behind Howard Stern.
  • Celine Dion outranks Barbra Streisand.
  • Justin Timberlake, but no Fred Astaire.
  • Bill Gates is included, correctly, but not Henry Ford. Bill Clinton outranks JFK, but Washington and Lincoln are out. Einstein and Freud, but no Franklin or Edison.
  • Jennifer Lopez and Julia Roberts are above James Dean and Frank Sinatra.
  • Cruise, Ford, Travolta, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Michael J. Fox, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mel Gibson outrank Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Clark Gable, Burt Reynolds, Woody Allen, Jackie Gleason and Rock Hudson. Humphrey Bogart? Unrated.
  • Dorothy Hamill is on the list. I love Dorothy Hamill, but c'mon. Also on the list: Penny Marshall. If that's one for us old people, no, thanks.
  • Oprah Winfrey is number one. She's an icon, but the icon? The unrated Jerry Springer is just as iconic.

    For the sake of argument, here is my hastily conceived list of 30 musts for any icon list, in approximate order of prominence, along with VH1's ranking:

    Elvis Presley (3)
    Marilyn Monroe (6)
    Muhammad Ali (16)
    The Beatles (12)
    Jesus Christ (unrated)
    Frank Sinatra (27)
    John Wayne (54)
    John F. Kennedy (32)
    Jackie Onassis (47)
    James Dean (26)
    Princess Diana (9)
    Michael Jackson (10)
    Barbra Streisand (66)
    Elizabeth Taylor (49)
    Madonna (7)
    Bob Dylan (68)
    Mickey Mouse (17)
    Johnny Carson (36)
    Cher (41)
    Jack Nicholson (81)
    Grace Kelly (87)
    Albert Einstein (108)
    Bette Davis (110)
    Charlie Chaplin (126)
    Babe Ruth (136)
    Humphrey Bogart (unrated)
    Martha Stewart (43)
    Johnny Cash (88)
    Burt Reynolds (164)
    Walter Cronkite (unrated)

  • This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours? Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com